WASHINGTON -- Bush administration lawyers who wrote memos blessing the waterboarding of terrorism suspects and other harsh interrogation tactics "exercised poor judgment" but will not face discipline for their actions, according to Justice Department correspondence sent to lawmakers late Friday.
The long-awaited conclusion marks a turnaround from recommendations against two of the lawyers by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility. OPR, which conducts ethics investigations of Justice Department attorneys, twice urged that allegations against John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee be sent to state legal disciplinary authorities for further action, the correspondence said.
But the decision was overruled by David Margolis, a career lawyer in the Deputy Attorney General's office, on Jan. 5, the letter said. Margolis "declined to adopt OPR's findings of professional misconduct and concluded instead that Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee exercised poor judgment in connection with the drafting of the pertinent memoranda," said the letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.
Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge based in Nevada, submitted detailed rebuttals of the ethics report. The initial findings (dated Dec. 23, 2008), a second draft in February 2009 and the final report from October 2009 were released by lawmakers Friday.
"For years, those who approved torture and abuse of detainees have hidden behind legal memos issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel," said House Judiciary Chairman John M. Conyers Jr. "The materials released today make plain that those memos were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound, and may have been improperly influenced by a desire to tell the Bush White House and the CIA what it wanted to hear."
Conyers vowed to hold hearings on the report in which Yoo and Bybee could be prominent witnesses.